lady of the rings

According to KonMari, my next categories should be shoes, and clothes-wise, all that’s left for me to do is coats. But the idea of getting started on my shoes scares me. I keep finding excuses not to do them. I get started on jewelry and accessories, which is technically not cheating but still a little. Jewelry is another category I just can’t count. I have so much. The worst in there are things I bought on holidays (necklace made of neon-colored shells anyone?) and some presents I got. I throw everything in a box and begin the delicate task of finding every match to every earring and untangling necklaces.

I realize I have dozens of bracelets – I never wear bracelets. Some of them are too small and hurt, but the beads were so pretty I had to have them.

I have dozens and dozens of necklaces. Thanks to my cleavage, I never wear long ones, so out they all go. And the really short ones go too, they’re always just out to strangle me.

I have more rings than I expected, considering I never wear them. But in a tiny bag, which was hiding away in a drawer, I find the beautiful opal ring I got from my dad for Christmas a few years back, which I was certain I’d lost in a toilet somewhere. Again, I take it as a sign from the universe that I am on the right path. I am so happy, I wear the ring the next day and get asked if I got engaged. Erh, nope.

Earrings I possibly have a million of, running the gamut from cheap plastic to possibly precious. Some were quick purchases (oh the famous get 3, pay for 2, how many useless things have I not paid for that way?). Others were gifts or family heirlooms.

It literally takes me 3h to sort out everything, and to this day, I still have a box full of leftovers (beads, unmatched earrings, pieces that fell off something else). I have a huge bag of stuff to get rid of. And yes, some of them were gifts and I do feel guilty towards all of you lovely people who gave them to me, but Marie’s view is that your intention when giving is to do something nice, which you did. She then goes on to explain that you certainly didn’t mean to make me feel guilty or crowd my space with stuff I don’t like. So thank you so much for your gifts, but I’m sorry, away they go. To be fair, I am not throwing away every gift I got, I’m also keeping a lot, don’t worry about it, ok?

The most fun part of jewelry Kondo-ing is organizing it. Marie Kondo recommends to use any box you might have to create compartments in drawers, and I have a lot of fun imagining the best way to group my new, reduced collection for maximum joy and efficiency (as in actually finding what I’m looking for on a sleepy morning). I decide to organize by color/style. I now have one drawer for golden-ish, and within that drawer are several boxes, one for stud earrings, one for hoops, etc. I have one drawer for everything sparkly. My 3 pairs of drop earrings are together in a box. The first week, I immediately start wearing more rings and necklaces. Mainly because I’m now very aware of what I do have, and because it doesn’t require 10 minutes of searching or untangling. My life definitely has more joy.

My shoes, however, stare at me with an accusatory look every time I enter the room. There are so many of them that they are all in a pile, getting damaged by the shoes on top of them, separated from their other half. That’s right, my shoes now have feelings. I’m a shoe abuser.

Another glitch in the plan is that I try to wear one of the few black cardigans that I kept, and find out it’s too big. I start wondering if I went too fast in the discard phase. Or maybe I really did have 14 black cardigans, none of which fitted and looked nice. Then I need to go shopping – oh no! That’s where it all begins!

I try to wear a jacket I kept because it sparked joy but realize I have nothing that matches. I try to wear the pantyhoses I found and they tear as soon as I slide my leg in. Clearly pantyhoses don’t age well. It starts to feel like maybe I kept a lot of pretty joyful things that I can’t ever wear.

Every morning when I’m getting ready I feel like Kondo-ing the beauty products, every time I’m making tea I want to Kondo my mugs, but those categories are only coming up after I’m done with clothes, accessories, books, and papers. Which could take months!

I feel anxious. I stop Kondo-ing for a while. Then I take a look at my shoes and feel guilty. My plan is to get to them on my next free weekend. To be continued…


Grateful for Facebook

I wrote about the connection between Facebook and mood a while ago (ok, a long long time ago) and today I’m going to try to articulate a little more how I feel social media can be used for gratitude. But first, a little song about gratitude.

There are many studies showing that gratitude helps combat depression and increase happiness. In a world where we are constantly obsessing about amassing more money, shoes, or friends and finally attaining the right marital status, job or weight, we tend to forget how much we already have. Taking the time to count our blessings every day has proved to help us refocus our thoughts and serves as a reminder of how lucky we truly are.

Social media statuses are a great way to practice gratitude.

Observe the world around you and take a picture of the pretty little purple flower growing between the cobblestones and share it with your friend. When you feel the sun on your face, shoot the sunrise and upload it. Snap any moment that melts your heart, especially if they involve four-legged furry friends. Did your tram driver just make a joke about the weather? Tweet it. Did you just have the best fair trade sundried sausage? I’m going to need a picture of that. Did you buy the cutest Havaianas? By all means, show me!

Why? You are creating a mindfulness practice. By trying to look at the world through gratitude glasses, you are teaching yourself to pause and notice the beauty around you. The more you do it, the less importance you give to all the dark, ugly, crappy, negative stuff.

And sharing? Well, I like to see more happy people in my feed, and I bet your friends do too!

t-shirts and bikinis and socks, oh my


If you asked me to go with you on a tropical holiday to Bonaire, I would most likely think ‘oh dear, and I have no swimwear’ and frantically start shopping for some. It’s not easy finding decent swimwear in my size, so I’m on this Holy Grail quest for the perfect bikini. That’s right, bikini, I don’t need to be all covered up just because I’m plus size. But when I start going through my swimwear I realize I can stop the search. It turns out I have 26 perfectly lovely swim outfits, some of them with matching sarong or shorts. Not sure how that happened. A couple of them were a bit worse for wear, being about 100 years old, but the rest has basically not seen the light of day, let alone the sun, a swimming pool or the ocean. So I think I’m set for now. It’s so strange to discover how many items I’ve been purchasing out of fear when actually I have all I need and then some.

A couple years ago, on a Mexican vacation, I bought a beautiful green swimsuit, with matching green chemise. I wore it a couple times there, and then it went into my cupboard. And when I needed it for another holiday I suddenly couldn’t find it. I was certain I’d taken it to Belgium when I was staying in a hotel with swimming pool and actually expected to use the pool (I never do). Or maybe to Brazil. Either way, it had clearly slipped out of my suitcase somewhere exotic and I was annoyed I’d lost it. It was one of my more expensive swimsuits and having the green chemise without it seemed silly, yet I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of that pretty thing. Well, guess what I found, all the way at the bottom of my cupboard when I emptied it? That’s right. The precious green swimsuit from Mexico. I took it as a sign from the universe indicating that this cleanse was the right path for me.

I also go through stockings and socks. I didn’t wear skirts or dresses all winter because I had no pantyhoses, and they are no fun to shop for. But while sorting everything out, I find out I have over 30. Sure, some of them are yellow and orange and therefore promptly donated (what was I thinking?) but the rest is black and perfectly wearable. So dresses are back on!

Next in line is sleepwear. I have lots of pajamas that I never use because I don’t like when the top is too short to cover my tummy. I get rid of them ruthlessly, visualizing how happy I’ll be to sleep with a warm tummy every night. What I wear the most are giant t-shirts with prints such as Miss M&Ms saying ‘I don’t do kisses’. They’ve been washed so often that the print is all wrinkled, hardened and unreadable. Out they go, after many years of happy nights. I thank them for their loyal services and the joy they brought before saying goodbye, as Marie recommends. I also have the sexy negligees that seemed like a good idea but never get worn as I prefer my shoulders to be covered when I sleep. Ok, I know those aren’t really made for sleeping, so I keep the nicest one and get rid of the rest.

I move to sportswear. Most of my sportswear come from Decathlon or H&M. It is mainly shapeless and in ugly colors (army green? Ewwww). All the pants are too long. Some of the hoodies have broken zippers. I fill in a whole bag with all this crap. I keep only what makes me feel happy when I wear it. It’s still enough to workout several times a week, which I never do, even in a good week.

My last category of the day is tops. Long sleeve, short sleeve, tanks. The pile on the floor comes up to my knees. Marie Kondo says people usually have 140 tops. I actually have 200. Holy smokes. Overwhelmed, I start by picking the ones I love best. They usually have embroideries, flattering cuts or just a pretty color. I notice I haven’t worn some of them for years and decide to give them another chance. I also need some basic t-shirts and tanks to go below other items. I’m left with tops that never really looked good, or tops in colors that I never really liked, relics from the days when I would buy anything that fits. I discard them, and it feels like saying goodbye to that rather miserable time of my life. I will no longer buy items I don’t like just because they fit. Those days are gone. This feels like therapy.

I enjoy the process a lot, even more so because I have actually purchased drawers and instead of putting the sorted items back where they were, I take the time to fold them the KonMari way and arrange them by color, rainbow-style. It looks so pretty. I can’t stop staring it everything. It feels like I live in a boutique owned by people with good taste.

It takes me the rest of the day to install the drawers into my cupboard but once I’m done, I feel so proud. From that day onwards, I feel a thrill of pride and joy every time I dig into those drawers. I can’t wait to get the rest of my clothes into drawers, and organized by color!

how many black cardigans?

So it’s day 2 of my KonMari experience. I went to bed last night with the satisfaction of having detoxed my wardrobe quite successfully. It feels like the beginning of a new life, one that is filled with only gorgeous little things, darling. The hanging part of my closet has reached a zen-like emptiness, and I have realized that my problem was never ‘not having enough hangers’ but ‘having too much crap’.

I start the next day going through suit jackets (which I never wear), where I find a few gems among some horrors, all of them long-forgotten. I wear one of them the next day at work and get compliments. Maybe this is the new me, not only clutter-free but also slightly more professional-looking?

I move to skirts. Here as well, besides a few recent purchases that I still like, I find some very old items that never even seemed to ever fit me that well. Sorting through all this is like archeology. going through strata of different eras: my first job, holidays, ballroom dance… The memories flow through me, it’s like these clothes are my madeleine.

Sweaters are stored high up on a shelf in my cupboard and I never dig through the back of that shelf, I usually just grab whatever is in the front, nearly falling on me. What I find there is slightly horrifying. It turns out I have 8 purple cardigans and 15 black ones. Some of them have understandable seasonal differences, but most of them are nearly identical. The worst is that if I went shopping right now, I’d probably be looking for a black cardigan because, you know, cause I don’t have any. I get angry and ruthless. I only keep the cardigans that look good. Those that have cute ribbons or buttons. Anything plain or shapeless or cheap goes into a donation bag. I also discard a couple comfy sweaters that I enjoyed wearing but just don’t look good. Still, I find so many lovely things that make me happy, I can’t believe I never wear them. I wear one of the cardigans later that week, and all day I feel like I won some weird kind of contest.

Shoes are overtaking my house, and the shelf above my sweaters are summer shoes. I throw them all on the floor and Kondo (that’s right, it’s a verb to me now) my way through them. Basically, there are 2 categories: gorgeous heels that are pretty much unworn, and flat sandals that are so worn they are actually unwearable. I find a couple of pairs that I never wore simply because they hurt. I put them in a new pile which is ‘potential sales’.

I get the plastic bags to the donation bin, full of energy for the week. I can feel the space that this cleaning is making in my house and in my mind. I look at my agenda and get annoyed to see it will be a few weeks before I can spend a day on this again, but I stay committed. By the end of this year, every item in my house will be ‘sparking joy’.

100 Dresses

So it’s Saturday afternoon, and I’m ready to get started with Step 1 in my KonMari decluttering journey. Dresses.

I decide to use my living room as sorting area. Which means I’m walking back and forth from my closet to my living room, arms full of dresses, well, too many times.

Some dresses are hanging nicely from a hanger. Some hangers carry 2 dresses. Some dresses are crumpled on the floor of the cupboard, having fallen from their hanger. Some are in the pile of half clean/half dirty clothes. One is still in the shopping bag, not even unpacked.

I’m playing some nice music, drinking tea, the sun is shining, I’m excited. I decide to keep track of how many items I’m keeping vs. not keeping. I’m careful not to write ‘throwing’ away because I’ve decided I’m giving everything, somehow.

I get started. Quickly it’s clear that there are some items in there I never even liked, even when I bought them. Looking at them, it’s very easy to put them in the ‘away’ pile and my mind drifts to the time in my life when I felt so awkward about my body that I would buy anything that fitted somehow. It saddens me. But it also makes it even easier to discard them, as if I’m forever saying goodbye to that time of my life.

Then I get into dresses that I fell in love with, but never really fitted or looked good on me. They do ‘spark joy’, looking at them, but when I pick them up I remember what I feel like wearing them, which is not great. Sometimes I put them on and run to the mirror. Some of them are actually wearable but mostly they make me feel not so joyful so ‘away’ they go.

A few dresses make me feel joyful even though I never wore them. I hesitate. Marie says if you hesitate you shouldn’t feel forced to discard them. So I keep some of them. Mainly some that actually look good on me. Or one fabulous silk piece that is pretty much bag-shaped but has a print that makes me smile. Maybe I’ll turn it into a pillow. It stays.

I find a couple dresses that actually don’t fit well, don’t spark joy of themselves, but have beautiful appliqué or beading. I set them aside. My plan is to remove and keep the sparkly bits and put the dresses ‘away’.

My final count is over 100 dresses. And I don’t even wear a dress every week! I get rid of about 30%, which is good, but still leaves me with an obscene number of dresses.

Looking at the ‘away’ pile, I actually notice most of them have hardly been worn. They are in perfect condition and I would say the average cost of each item was probably 100 euros. What a waste! I’m thinking someone could probably sell them and make a little money. Not me, cause it’s just too much trouble when getting rid of so many things, but someone. So I place an ad on Facebook. Anyone willing to take them and sell them can keep a good commission of whatever they make. Thankfully, one friend replies and I decide to give her the dresses.

Feeling elated, I immediately plunk all my trousers, jeans, shorts, leggings and jumpsuits in the middle of my living-room and start going through them.

My findings are even worse. I probably have 25 cheap black pants that I hoped I’d wear in the office but just don’t fit. Same for shorts. Leggings are the opposite. I wear them so much that I keep them all. In the end, I keep only about 50% of my bottoms. The rest goes in a bin bag. I enthusiastically get out of the house to put them in the clothes bin for recycling. It’s full. I look up the closest alternative bin and lug my bags to it. Putting the bags into those bins, knowing or rather hoping that they will be useful to someone, I feel satisfied and I grin like a madwoman. Then I head back home, ready for more.


Does it spark joy?

A few months ago as I began to look at my life, I started to feel that house my house was possibly full of things that were weighing me down. I’m lucky enough to have a big apartment but somehow I managed to fill every room and every square centimeter of it with… well… crap…

I’m a shopaholic, sentimental forgetful hoarder. I buy a lot of things, I get very attached to them, and then forget I own them and start buying more. I never throw away anything. I mean it. I have the ticket stub of every movie and concert I’ve ever seen. It’s an illness. I know.

Anyway. So little by little I started to get the sense that my life would be better with less crap lying around. I started imagining what it would feel like to have more space around me, less baggage. Space, instead of ‘scary’, started to feel more like ‘possibility’. Every time I started thinking about how to get there, I got stuck at thoughts like ‘where do I even start’, ‘what if I throw away something and then regret it’ and of course ‘but I can’t throw away perfectly good crap, surely I need to find ways to give/recycle/donate every single item otherwise I’m destroying the planet’.

So I remained in that mental block until during a conversation a friend told me about Marie Kondo and her decluttering theories. That night I ran to the American Book Center and bought Marie Kondo’s book. Except she now has 2 books and I didn’t know which one was best so I got both. Way to start the decluttering.

I pretty much read the 2 books immediately, and I really liked the way Marie looks at decluttering. The way you have to find what sparks joy and keep just that. The way you thank everything you get rid of. Most of her theory made sense to me apart from 2 things:

  • She does not touch at all on what to do with all the stuff. She keeps talking about the hundreds of people she has helped, and about putting things in garbage bags and ‘discarding’ them. Which seems simple but I simply could not fathom how someone could throw away so much stuff and not feel guilty.
  • Drawers – her way of storing is based on drawers. Seeing everything from above, getting a good overview. Well, my house is pretty much full of shelves, or cupboards with shelves in them.

Despite these 2 worries, I had a free weekend coming up and I was itching to get started with my de-cluttering. I decided I would start with my dresses, as Marie Kondo recommends starting with clothes and going through them category by category. And I would give myself the weekend to do 2 categories.

This is not TV!

A couple of things have happened in the past few weeks which have caused me to pause.

About a month ago, I was in France, watching an amazing street artist, Zanzibar, perform in La Rochelle. He was basically a fantastic juggler, but his act had a lot of smart cabaret/comedic bits in it. He took over 30 min to build up his story towards his grand finale, which was juggling with swords while balancing at the top of a ladder. Several times, while explaining some of his tricks, he mentioned ‘don’t try this at home, I’m a professional’. He sometimes added ‘this is my profession, I train to do this, every day, for several years’. Many of my artist friends mention this problem, that the public doesn’t realise how much hard work and dedication goes into an act or piece of art and therefore don’t want to pay anything for it. But this wonderful street artist also said something that touched me. He was asking for applause during one of his tricks. And the crowd was just not responding. So he said ‘guys, this is not TV. I’m not on TV. You are not in front of a screen at home. I can see you. I am a person, a human, sweating my ass off to entertain you. And I love doing it! It’s my profession, it’s what I chose, I wouldn’t do anything else. But the least you guys can do is cheer for me. Show me you are here, give me some energy back.’

This is not TV. I am a person.

Those words stayed with me.

Then weeks later, I was at dance class with one of my favourite teachers. As usual, she was giving us a lot of attention and energy. Encouraging us when we were trying new things. Creating new choreography for us all the time. Challenging us and always smiling. Dancing with us every single time. But every time she taught something new, the group sighed, as if they didn’t want to learn. Every time she asked a question, the group stayed quiet. Finally she started saying ‘guys, I don’t understand what is going on. I’m giving you more challenging work because I think you can handle it, but instead of trying, you guys just look bored and annoyed. I’m giving you a lot of energy, but it’s very difficult when I get nothing back.’

This sure sounded a lot like what the street artist said.

As much as I love TV and the internet, is it possible that spending our life in front of a screen is making us forget what human relationships are about? Are we really all forgetting that humans need feedback, that relationships need input?


fear and intuition

I can’t remember when I exactly realised how much fear was dictating my life. It wasn’t a revelation as much as the result of patiently fitting tiny puzzle pieces of life together and guessing what the overall picture was. Either way, somehow about a year ago it became clear to me that most of my choices and life decisions were driven by fear. Fear explained why it took me about 4 months to plan a holiday, as well as several excel sheets with pros and cons for hotels and excursions. Fear was the reason I decided I didn’t want a serious relationship ever ever again. Fear was the reason I was always more comfortable baking cakes, where the instructions are detailed and clear and remove uncertainty, than free-style cooking with random ingredients.

Actually, the road to my slow epiphany was through ‘gut feel‘.

I’m on a lifelong quest to happiness. This manifests in me greedily reading every book on the topic and attempting every exercise statistically proven to increase happiness. Most of them are actually quite relaxing and come to me quite easily, such as dancing or practicing gratitude. But the one that I just couldn’t do, no matter how hard I tried, was trusting my instinct.

All the mindfulness books and happiness experts tell you to trust your instinct. They claim that somewhere, deep inside you, is a well of wisdom that somehow ‘knows’. Knows whether you should trust person A, take job B or decide what to eat on restaurant menu C. I tried listening to this inner voice. I tried while meditating. I tried while writing. I tried while getting tipsy. I expected the voice to speak clearly and give simple instructions, but I only heard silence. I concluded that I must be more shallow than average and not have an inner wise women after all.

But somehow, gradually, I noticed myself making rather ‘rash’ decisions. At first it felt like being disorganised and uncaring. Going on holidays in 2 weeks and still not having booked a hotel? Foolish! But I just told myself ‘what’s the worse that can happen?’ and went with the flow. And I had a GREAT time. Comforted by the fact that this new attitude was saving me a lot of the time I would normally have spent obsessing, I started applying the ‘what’s the worse that can happen?’ attitude to the rest of my life. More holidays without having prepared the schedule to the minute. New extracurricular activities. Sports, performing, bragging about myself at work. Before I knew it, I was swimming next to a whale shark.

I started to notice that shutting down my brain was basically the way to find my intuition. As opposed to thinking ‘I need to find my gut feeling‘, not thinking is the way to go.

Sure, I’ll never be the devil-may-care, sky-diving, not-knowing-where-the-next-pay-check-comes-from type of person. But I am no longer the stay-at-home, obsessively-plan-every-scenario, can’t-decide-anything-without-excel type of person either. And that is something my inner wise woman feels very good about.

being a woman

There has been a lot of outrage around several events involving women lately.

Before the summer, the Blurred Lines music video with Robin Thicke showed women wearing only skin coloured thongs, walking around fully dressed men. This was seen as sexually objectifying the women. Everyone seemed to assume that there is no way a woman could enjoy showing her body proudly to the world. We should be hiding it instead, evidently.

Then Miley Cyrus twerked with the same Robin Thicke at the MTV music awards and she was accused of too many things to count – sex objectifying herself, being a slut, being racist, etc… Everyone seemed to assume there is no way that she just found it fun. We should be doing what everyone else thinks is appropriate, rather than what we really want, evidently.

Last week, the CEO of Barilla (the Italian pasta company) declared in an interview that his company believes in the traditional role of women in the family and therefore would not use gay families in their ads – and that if gay people didn’t like it, they could eat another brand of pasta. All my gay friends immediately went into action, calling for a boycott of the homophobic pasta, and a few hours later Mr Barilla was apologising. But absolutely none of my women friends took any notice of him wanting the woman in the kitchen. Everyone assumed that we are ok being told we should be in the kitchen, making pasta for the whole family.

And at the same time, McKinsey keeps tracking the abysmal record of companies at promoting women to higher level jobs. The government keeps tracking the abysmal number of women working full time in the Netherlands. Mothers keeps talking about the mummy wars – working mums judging stay at home mums and vice versa.

Why am I connecting these dots? Because I don’t think there is any demographic being judged as much as mine. Women. And there is no other demographic doing as little to change any of it.

I feel we are at the stage where the women around me have given up completely on trying to change Mr Barilla, or companies, or governments, or society. I don’t receive emails or tweets every time a company says something sexist. My facebook stream doesn’t fill with petitions every time a woman is being judged for having fun, or being sexual. We seem to think what we have is good enough – we can vote, we can work, we can divorce, what more could we possibly want? We have decided to save our energy to focus on our personal situation and disengage from any debate. Except that only works up to a point. Do we want our daughters being called a slut every time they try to express their sexuality? Do we want to be told again and again that there is no good reason to be proud of the female body? Isn’t that like one step away from living under sharia law?

Personally, I see myself as much more likely to put a sexy outfit on like the Blurred Line girls or to twerk like Miley than to turn into the traditional woman Mr Barilla wants me to be. But if I say this out loud to people, what does that make me? Well, suffice to say that I don’t say it out loud because I know exactly how I’ll be judged. Including by women.

Facebook and happiness

I’ve read many studies that suggest that social media makes people less focused and unhappy.

Researchers usually are unable to explain why but some of the theories they hazard are around the fact that:

– virtual relationships are not as warm and fuzzy as ‘real’ ones

– fear of missing out accentuates our natural envious ‘the grass is greener’ unhappiness

– the speed at which your streams get new content makes your mind jump from one topic to the next and leaves you unable to concentrate.

I disagree.

As someone who can be moody and never enjoyed the telephone, I have developed warm, fuzzy relationships with many people purely thanks to social networks. Because I decide when I engage and what I read, I’m able to stay away from humans on my werewolf days, and be a (hopefully) supportive friends when I have the energy. It’s also easier for me to share my emotions in my facebook status than to vocalize them aloud, and I must say that looking for the right word to describe how I feel at this moment has helped me get more in touch my emotions.

The fear of missing out aspect is an interesting one. I make a conscious effort to only share positive or constructive, debatable facts and opinions on social networks. This is on one hand because I don’t want my web history to show a life of grumpy posts, but also because I think there aren’t enough positive news facts or comments in my life. I want my stream to be a source of happiness for those who chose to friend or follow me. And by forcing myself to find the positive for my facebook friends, I find the positive all around me. And I realize that I’m continuously practicing gratefulness and mindfulness. The sunrise this morning, which on a busy day like today I would have ignored, became something beautiful enough for me to spend a few min to share with my posse. I find myself thinking less negative thoughts and finding the beauty and pleasure in all the little things.

So facebook has made me a happier person.

On the last aspect – concentration – well, I do have the attention span of a goldfish, but maybe jumping from one happy topic to one brilliant idea to one interesting article is not the worse way to live, is it?